Mrs Cristal Lim, 48, was a Vietnamese refugee. A few years after the Vietnam War ended, her family of six fled the country. They feared persecution as her father, who was working in the army, had been imprisoned for a while.
Before they were resettled in France, they spent six months in the early 1980s in Singapore’s only refugee camp in Sembawang, which closed in 1996.
Because Mrs Lim, a Singapore permanent resident who works as a partner in a food and beverage group, experienced compassion as a refugee, she wanted to instil the value in her three children.
Some Singaporeans gave her small items such as a keychain, which she cherished in the refugee camp where she had no toys.
“I felt so blessed that somebody was thinking of me even though they didn’t know me. I slept holding the keychain,” recalls Mrs Lim, who is married to a 50-year-old lawyer.
She returned to Asia for business at age 26 and decided to visit Vietnam. “I saw the poor. I didn’t want them to be forgotten. I wanted to teach my children that.”
For the past 10 years, she has been making regular charitable trips to Vietnam, sometimes with her children. Last year, she worked on projects such as donating 1,000 jackets and 500 blankets to needy Vietnamese. Such projects are funded in part by donations from friends and non-profit groups.
Her eldest child, Annabelle, 18, has been inspired to work on philanthropic causes here. Her son, Lucas, 16, is studying in England. And her youngest child, Isabelle, 11, went on her first trip to Vietnam last year.
Annabelle handles partnerships at The Hidden Good, a group which conducts social experiments and holds events that aim to highlight the good in Singaporeans. She also volunteers to read with disadvantaged children.
The empathy she gained from volunteering has helped her in communicating the needs of poor communities to potential non-profit partners. “Having my mother take us to Vietnam and even before that, when she was telling us stories about the country, has opened me up to the world.”
(Photos: courtesy of The Straits Times, 123RF.com)
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times